Balancing Act: Navigating the Shift From Third-Party Cookies to First-Party Data Strategies

Publishers have long held that first-party data is one of the most robust solutions for cookie deprecation, but evidence suggests they need to learn better ways to use the data.  

Given the challenges and bashing of Google’s Privacy Sandbox, a reprieve from cookie deprecation may be in the offing. The wait-and-see approach has been popular ever since Google first announced Chrome would cease to support third-party cookies back in 2019.

Fortunately, publishers haven’t been content to sit on the sidelines. They have been actively exploring ways to use their first-party data to create audience segments for targeting, measurement, and attribution. 

First-party data has yet to prove to be the panacea many had hoped for, but when combined with other tools and strategies, some publishers, like, find it very useful. 

User Personalization

Third-party cookies were useful to publishers to personalize content for non-subscribing readers. If I read tips on Helldivers 2 on GameSpot, it’s a good indication I like that sort of game, and GameSpot can recommend straightforward content on my next visit. 

But cookie deprecation will ultimately eliminate that route for assessing my interest, leading many publications to collect first-party data through free account signups. This direct data source can help publishers create audience segments based on user interest.

The trick is to prompt users to register and disclose PII, like their email addresses, when they haven’t had to in the past. launched a Snopes True or False game to do just that, and according to Justin Wohl, CRO of Snopes, the trivia game has seen sustained engagement. They plan to launch the next generation in Q3 of this year.

“Personalized content takes shape when publishers customize the stories and promotions, layouts and preferences, to an individual user. That’s primarily done using a first-party cookie, but the solution doesn’t span every device and browser a reader may visit from. When someone logs in, it bridges the data gap that exists between, for example, your work computer and your phone,” Wohl said. Publishers need an ID to connect those devices to you (more on that in a bit).

While free accounts are a great way to collect first-party data, Ravi Mittal, CEO of, warns that subscriptions may not be enough for publishers to get the volume of data they need to create robust audience segments, especially if the AdOps teams want to use those segments for ad campaigns.

In such cases, Ravi Mittal, CEO of, recommends introducing engagement tactics in articles, such as quizzes and polls. “When users interact with these elements, publishers employing the GAM360 Audience Manager can channel hyper-segmented audiences towards their ad server. This allows for targeting specific campaigns, bypassing the need to store email addresses and, consequently, increasing the scope and volume of addressable data collected.”

OpenWeb is also a proponent of leveraging user engagement, in its case within the comments sections of articles, to collect first-party data to recommend content and increase engagement. Encourage users to sign in to comment on articles. When consumers comment on an article, it’s a clear sign they are interested in a topic, and then present them with similar content to boost time on site.

Email as Connective Tissue

A key benefit of free accounts is the email addresses users disclose. When I sign into the Snopes game on my phone and work computers to record my scores, Snopes can connect both devices to me.

And my email address can also help Snopes programmatic activities. “Free accounts, and the email addresses that come with them, are helpful for programmatic advertising in the role they play in bid enhancement. In absence of third-party cookies, publishers can bolster their bid requests with alt-IDs, like UID2 or RampID that are generated when readers log in,” Wohl explained.

In other words, publishers can provide their advertisers with a way to target their desired audience more precisely, even in the absence of third-party cookies. The alt-IDs serve as a bridge, allowing advertisers to understand whom they’re contacting based on the first-party data associated with the alt-ID.

By embracing first-party data and engaging users in new, interactive ways, publishers are not just navigating the challenges but are setting the stage for a more personalized and privacy-conscious future.